When it comes to diving in at the lyrical deep end, Up The Junction, a number two hit from Squeeze which made its chart debut in June 1979, is the pop song equivalent of a non swimmer leaping from the far end of Brighton Pier at high tide without a life belt.
At the same time that Sister Sledge were singing We Are Family and Anita Ward was inviting us all to Ring My Bell along came the band that (briefly) put Deptford on the map cutting through the cant and informing us: “I never thought it would happen with me and the girl from Clapham, out on a windy common, that night I ain’t forgotten.”
It was the kind of scene setting narrative that fans of the band were already familiar with. Debut hit Take Me I’m Yours in April 1978 with its meandering melody first hinted there was more to come. It peaked at number 19 with follow ups Bang Bang (49) and Goodbye Girl (63) looking like the band’s chart days were going to be short lived.
Then came Cool for Cats – a March 1979 number two. A streetwise dip in and out of popular culture (a pop tv programme of that name had run from 1956 to 1962), hit series The Sweeney (1975 to 1978) is referenced, the narrator/vocalist is a Jack the Lad facing working class life’s realities (“but it’s not like that on the tv when it’s cool for cats”).
But it was the follow up which shared its title and inspiration both with everyday slang and Ken Loach’s influential tv adaptation of a collection of short stories by Nell Dunn, which alerted the world to a writing partnership up there with Ray Davies and Lennon & McCartney.
Not that Christopher Henry Difford (he wrote the lyrics) and Glenn Martin Tilbrook (the music) were too thrilled with all the comparisons.
Alright, it’s one thing Tilbrook recalling: “When I was 15, I saw an advert in a shop window. A guitarist was needed for a “recording and touring band: influences the Kinks, Lou Reed and Glenn Miller.” “
He adds: “This was Chris Difford’s fictitious band! Even then, he had a gift for making up stories.”
But as for being the new John and Paul he describes their writing partnership as “like two barges on a river banging into each other.”
The comparison was “a gift for our marketing people. We never lived up to that, but I think I can say Up the Junction is a timeless classic.”
And so it is.
An everyday story of working class hopes and happiness turned sour.
The central characters’ courtship swiftly moves into living together (“We moved into a basement with thoughts of our engagement. We stayed in by the telly although the room was smelly. We spent our time just kissing, The Railway Arms we’re missing but love had got us hooked up and all our time it took up”).
They have a child, the man gets a job and saves what money he can (“I worked all through the winter, the weather brass and bitter. I put away a tenner each week to make her better.”).
But by the end of the song’s economical running time he has become an alcoholic, she is with another man and is bringing up their child (“And now she’s two years older, her mother’s with a soldier. She left me when my drinking became a proper stinging”).
His pride won’t let him beg forgiveness and share their girl (“I’d beg for some forgiveness but begging’s not my business”) and he has to admit his life is ruined (“And she won’t write a letter although I always tell her. And so it’s my assumption I’m really up the junction.”
Hardly moon in June stuff with the sucker punch song title saved right until the end and more half rhymes along the way than Willy Russell’s heroine in Educating Rita.
Not even Anita Ward on the juke box and half price drinks at the bar could ring this particular bell.
As for his own feelings about the song Tilbrook says: “I was proud of Chris, being able to tell that story – a couple have a baby, but she leaves him because of his drinking – in the space of a pop song. It was a privilege – putting music to such an amazing lyric like that was a privilege, inspirational.”
It wasn’t an emotion shared by all.
“Our manager said he’d eat his hat if Up the Junction was a hit,” adds Difford (there’s no evidence to show that he kept his promise).
With no chorus to detract from the storytelling even the record company on first hearing told them to go back and finish it.
“And then it reached number two. It’s still one of my favourites,” he says.
|Chris Difford (Lyrics) Glenn Tilbrook (Music)
|Squeeze & John Wood
|18 May 1979
|Lily Allen Travis